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On the Gospel of John, Part 51: Feed My Sheep
The resurrection of Yahshua Christ is an assurance, for those men who can accept it, that God is true, that He does indeed transcend His creation, and that He had also determined from the beginning to take a part in His Own creation in the person of Yahshua Christ. This was spoken beforetime in the words of the prophets, and it was the inevitable conclusion that had been made by the apostles themselves once they realized the fact of His resurrection. Therefore once Thomas had seen Him he immediately responded by acknowledging Him to be both “My Lord and my God.” Realizing that Yahweh God incarnate as a man can transcend, or overcome, the physical limitations of His creation, it must be realized that His promises of eternal life for the Adamic man of His creation must also be true, and therefore the resurrection of Christ is an Adamic Dawn, as we have described it, the Son rising as a manifestation of the true Light which is an assurance of life to men, to the entire Adamic race which had previously sat in darkness.
But even this is only the beginning of a Christian understanding which leads to many other inevitable conclusions, too numerable to explain here. In his first epistle, which was evidently written not long after John had written this gospel, his own conclusions made with this understanding led him to explain that we must keep the commandments of God and love our brethren, if we love our brethren and keep the commandments then by that we have confidence that we are of God, and our keeping of the commandments of God is how we also manifest our love for our brethren.
Paul of Tarsus had essentially taught that same thing, but with a very different approach and much more elaboration. For example, in 1 Corinthians chapter 6 he had warned that sinners such as those who commit fornication, which among other things includes race-mixing (1 Corinthians 10, Jude 7), or sodomy, which today is called homosexuality, a euphemism for sodomy, or those who are adulterers or thieves, or even the covetous or effeminate, will not enter the kingdom of God, so he urged men to depart from those sins immediately. But warning against fornication above all other sins, he continued and said: “18 Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. 19 What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? 20 For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.” Committing fornication, is a direct sin against the entire body of Christ, against our entire race.
Man did not create himself, and therefore he is not an entity unto himself and shall ultimately answer to his Creator. The ancient children of Israel answered to Yahweh their God and were sent off into punishment for their sin. They were depicted as having sold themselves into sin. So we read in a Messianic prophecy, in Isaiah chapter 52, where Israel would be redeemed from sin and called to obedience in their Messiah: “1 Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city [Zion and Jerusalem are allegories for the people and their leaders wherever they are in their captivity]: for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean. 2 Shake thyself from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem: loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive daughter of Zion. 3 For thus saith the LORD, Ye have sold yourselves for nought; and ye shall be redeemed without money. 4 For thus saith the Lord GOD, My people went down aforetime into Egypt to sojourn there; and the Assyrian oppressed them without cause [an allusion to the two captivities of Israel]. 5 Now therefore, what have I here, saith the LORD, that my people is taken away for nought? they that rule over them make them to howl, saith the LORD; and my name continually every day is blasphemed. 6 Therefore my people shall know my name: therefore they shall know in that day that I am he that doth speak: behold, it is I.” So the apostles had realized that Yahshua Christ was indeed that very same God of the Scriptures, which is revealed in the fact of His resurrection.
While in the Bible the history and fate of the wider Adamic race is told through the perspective of the history and experience of the ancient Israelites, the children of God have no choice in the matter of their own fate. They were bought back from sin, they are the property of their Redeemer, and they could not die even if they wanted to, as we read in another Messianic prophecy, in Isaiah chapter 28: “15 Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves: [God is true. Men cannot hide in other religions or belief systems, in a refuge of lies. His wrath will come upon them in spite of what they think.] 16 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste. 17 Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place. 18 And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it.”
God is true and will not be mocked. Ultimately His creation will function in a manner which fulfills the purpose for which it was designed, and will suffer the consequences of disobedience until it agrees to function accordingly. This is also what it truly means to be “of Christ”, that you are one of those people whom He had purchased with His blood, the very meaning of redemption in the first place being to buy something back that one had formerly possessed, but had lost for some reason. Since the stated purpose of Yahweh for His Messiah was to buy the children of Israel back from sin and death, only the children of Israel can be of Christ. Any attempt to replace them with some other people, contrary to God’s stated purpose, is an attempt to commit fraud against God. He came only for the “lost sheep of the house of Israel”, and it is they whom He intended to describe where He tells Peter here to “feed My sheep”, the sheep He already possessed in accordance with His Own law of redemption. The fall of ancient Babylon is a shadow and a type for the coming fall of Mystery Babylon, and as Yahweh had said in Isaiah chapter 48, “The LORD hath redeemed his servant Jacob.” So we read in Revelation chapter 18, “Come out of her, my people,” and the identity of the people of God has not changed.
Now we shall commence with our commentary on the final chapter of John. Christ had already appeared to His disciples twice while they were still in Jerusalem, and now this is some days or perhaps even weeks later, after they had returned to Galilee as He had told them that He would see them there.
XXI 1 After these things Yahshua showed Himself again to the [D has “His”] students, by the sea at Tiberias.
Tiberias was a city on the western shore of the sea of Galilee (about half past 8 o’clock). The sea was also called Lake Gennesaret, a term which we see in the New Testament only in Luke chapter 5. In the Old Testament it was called the sea of Chinneroth. As this city existed in the time of Christ, it was apparently built up from an older village by the tetrarch Herod Antipas, and named after the emperor Tiberius once it was completed, some time around 20 AD. Herod then made it the capital city of his tetrarchy. So we read in Antiquities Book 18: “36 And now Herod the tetrarch, who was in great favour with Tiberius, built a city of the same name with him, and called it Tiberias. He built it in the best part of Galilee, at the lake of Gennesaret. There are warm baths at a little distance from it, in a village named Emmaus.” This is not the same Emmaus as the one mentioned in Luke chapter 24. In his Wars of the Judaeans, in Book 7, Josephus mentioned that other Emmaus, which was only 8 miles from Jerusalem, and that is the Emmaus mentioned in Luke. This village called Emmaus which was near to Tiberias in Galilee is nearly 75 miles north of Jerusalem.
Continuing with the opening verse of the chapter:
Now He showed Himself thusly: 2 there were together Simon Petros and Thomas who is called “Twin” and Nathanael who is from Kana of Galilaia and the sons [literally “those of”, sons is implied in the genitive case of the name which follows; א, C and D have “sons” in the text] of Zebedaios and two others of His students.
We were never told how Thomas became an apostle in the first place, but he was certainly one of the original twelve. Once again, we chose to translate the word δίδυμος as twin. Perhaps Thomas was also of Galilee, as he is here with the others at this time. The sons of Zebedee were the younger James and the apostle John who is the author of this gospel. John certainly seems to have used this convention in order to once again avoid naming himself, as he has throughout his account and as he does again in a different way later on in this chapter, while he nevertheless informs us that it was him.
The two other unnamed students may certainly have been two of the remaining apostles, but we will never know why John did not name them. If we had to conjecture their identities, since Andrew was an apostle and the brother of Simon Peter, and since Philip, also an apostle, was from Bethsaida which was the same town where Andrew and Peter had lived, and since these men had apparently gathered here to fish, which was their original vocation, they are the most likely candidates, but it is still only conjecture.
As a digression, Bethsaida, which means house of fish in Hebrew, the home of Philip, Andrew and Peter, as John had attested in chapter 1 of his gospel, is believed to have been on the upper Northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee (about 1 o’clock), far opposite Tiberias. But while the apostles continued to call it by its original name, we read in Josephus’ Antiquities, Book 18, speaking of Philip the Tetrarch, the brother of Herod Antipas: “28 When Philip, also, had built Paneas, a city at the fountains of Jordan, he named it Caesarea. He also advanced the village of Bethsaida, located at the lake of Gennesaret, to the dignity of a city, both by the number of inhabitants it contained, and its other grandeur, and called it by the name of Julias, the same name with Caesar's daughter.” So the Herods had quite regularly spent tax money on public works projects and used them to flatter Caesar.
3 Simon Petros says to them: “I go to fish.” They said to him: “We also will come with you.” [א inserts “Therefore”; A “And”; the text follows B, C, D, W and the MT] They went out and boarded into the vessel [A and the MT insert “immediately”; the text follows א, B, C, D and W], and on that night they caught nothing.
Perhaps it is inevitable that even experienced fishermen have nights where they do not catch any fish. At an earlier point in the ministry of Christ, as it is recorded in Luke chapter 5, we gain some insight into the vocation of these apostles, being fishermen and even having their own boats. There we read that after His temptation in the wilderness Christ had come back to the Sea of Galilee, perhaps to this very same place. So upon seeing two idle vessels, as the fishermen were washing their nets, Luke wrote “3 And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon's, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship. 4 Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. 5 And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. 6 And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake.”
4 Then morning already having come Yahshua stood [W wants the remainder of the verse:] on [א, A and D have “by”; the text follows B, C and the MT] the shore, however the students did not know that it is Yahshua.
It is the following morning so the apostles had fished all night. Being near to Tiberias, a large city, the sight of a man standing on the shore in the morning was probably not unusual.
5 So Yahshua [A and W have “He”; the text follows א, B, C, D and the MT] says to them: “Children, have you not anything to eat?” They replied to Him “No”.
The word παιδίον was generally used to refer to small children, a diminutive of παῖς which means child, and according to at least one Greek writer cited by Liddell & Scott, of children up to age 7. But it was also used to address young slaves. Perhaps in this context, “boys” would have been better, but the form of the word is neuter, and by itself does not imply gender. Since the men did not yet realize that it was Yahshua, while the term was also used by John in this manner in his first epistle, where he was referring to his readers, perhaps the word was also used colloquially as a term of endearment by older men addressing younger people. John also used the synonym τέκνον and its diminutive form, τεκνίον, which is a little child, in that same manner in his epistles, and so did Paul of Tarsus on occasion, for example in Galatians chapter 4. Otherwise it would have seemed odd that the apostles, being grown men, were being called children by a stranger.
6 Then He said [א and W want “Then” and have “He says”] to them: “Cast the net to the right side of the vessel, and you shall find.”
Here the 3rd century papyrus P66 has a lengthy interpolation: “But they said ‘throughout the whole night we have labored and have taken nothing, yet upon Your words we will cast.” The interpolation is very similar to the text of Luke 5:5, so evidently even the oldest known manuscripts may contain some embellishments. Some Latin, Syriac and later Greek manuscripts also contain the interpolation.
Finishing verse 6:
Therefore they cast, and no longer were they able to draw it because of the multitude of fish.
Here we have the second miraculous catch of fish recorded in Scripture, the first one being recorded in Luke chapter 5.
7 Then that student whom Yahshua loved says to Petros: “It is the [D has ‘our’] Prince!” So Simon Petros hearing that it is the Prince girt himself with the frock, for he was naked, and cast himself into the sea,
The word for frock is ἐπενδύτης, and it appears only here in the New Testament, and in 2 Samuel 13:18 in the Septuagint, but in some manuscripts, also in 1 Samuel 18:4. It describes an outer garment but not necessarily a tunic, which was typically the garment worn next to the skin, a sort of long shirt. Here this garment had apparently covered at least most of Peter’s body, at least enough to satisfy his modesty. The verb John uses here, διαζώννυμι, means to gird around or bind around, and seems to indicate that the garment was an outer robe which tied at the front. So the 9th edition of the Liddell & Scott Greek-English Lexicon properly defines it as a “robe or garment worn over another”, which is typical of the frock worn by men throughout medieval times. The King James Version calls it a “fisher’s coat” here, but the garment certainly is not a fisher’s coat, since Peter was not wearing it to fish.
Notice that today, men would typically wear at least some basic clothing while they worked, and perhaps they would remove at least some of it before jumping into the water. But in ancient times, men customarily worked naked, or with very little clothing, because clothing was expensive and it was also much more difficult to launder when it became soiled. In John chapter 13, Christ removed His clothing and girt Himself only with a towel before washing the feet of the apostles. In Acts chapter 7, even the men who had engaged in the stoning of the martyr Stephen had first “laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul.” But Peter, because he was naked while working, when about to meet with Christ, in his modesty he had put some clothing on before jumping into the water.
Now we learn that Peter’s boat was large enough for himself, a catch of fish, and the other 6 men who were with him, so it was probably propelled by a sail:
8 but the other students came in the boat – for they were not far from the land but about two hundred cubits – dragging along the net full of fish.
The common cubit being 18 inches, two hundred cubits would be about 100 of our yards. Liddell & Scott actually define the πῆχυς, or cubit, as being 18 ¼ inches. Other sources have it as long as half a meter, or 19 ½ inches. This we may doubt, as archaeologists have found that there was also a long or royal cubit of about 21 inches.
In verse 3 of this chapter, the word for vessel is πλοῖον, for which the King James Version has ship. The rendering is not incorrect, but in our modern vernacular we typically use the word ship to describe very large vessels. Here, although it still refers to the same vessel, the word is πλοιάριον, which is a diminutive form of πλοῖον, so we have it as boat where the King James Version has “little ship”.
In 1986 partial remains of what was apparently a small fishing boat were discovered near the site of ancient Magdala, which is approximately 3 miles north of the site of Tiberias. The boat, believed to have been from the first century and preserved in mud, was approximately 8 feet wide and 26 feet long, and remains of the hull were exposed only because of severe droughts in the area that year which had caused the level of the lake to drop considerably. Archaeologists believe that the rest of the boat was stripped off before the hull was abandoned, so that the parts could be reused. If such a boat were typical for the time, it very well fits the description of the sort of boat which Peter had here.
9 Then as they went up onto the land they see a charcoal fire spread out and fish and bread lying upon it.
The word for which we have spread out is κεῖμαι, where literally the phrase is ‘a charcoal fire lying’, but Liddell & Scott explain that in various contexts the word can be situated or set up, among other things. The King James Version ignored the word, since where lying appears later in the verse in reference to the fish and bread it is from the verb ἐπίκειμαι, to lie upon.
Evidently as the men in the boat came to shore, Yahshua Christ had already been preparing a meal for them, and did not really need the fish which they had caught. Perhaps there is symbolism in the fact that Christ was feeding His disciples as He was about to command them, and particularly Peter, to feed His sheep.
10 Yahshua says to them: “Bring from the fish which you have caught now.” 11 Then Simon Petros went up and dragged to [D and the MT have “up on”; the text follows א, A, B, C and W] the land the net full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three. Yet there being so many, the net did not tear.
Many commentators have struggled to find some deeper meaning for the number 153 here in the number of fish, and have spent considerable amounts of time in that endeavor. Yet they cannot or will not properly identify the sheep which Yahshua tells His disciples to feed.
Some sources, including a Wikipedia article, state that “It has been noted that the Tetragrammaton occurs 153 times in the Book of Genesis.” The Jewish Encyclopedia confirms this count. I wish it were correct, as it would be an easy correlation. But I could not verify this, since using Bibleworks software it appears that the Tetragrammaton is found 166 times in 144 verses of the Book of Genesis, according to the Westminster Theological Text. So many commentators point to the supposed 153 occurrences of the Tetragrammaton in Genesis as corresponding to the number of fish here, but it certainly seems not to be true.
My own opinion is that commentators will go to great lengths to try to find meanings imagined to be hidden in certain numbers, when no apparent meanings are implied by the Author of the Scriptures. Yet at the same time, they cannot read the plain words of Scripture in order to find the true meaning which the Author, meaning Yahweh God Himself, has transmitted through His prophets and apostles. If John meant to transmit any hidden message in the number of the fish, or if Yahweh Himself had planned it that way, it cannot be told from Scripture.
12 Yahshua says to them: “Come, have breakfast!” And [B and C want “And”; the text follows א, A, D, W and the MT] not one of the students dared to inquire of Him: “Who are You?”, knowing that He is the Prince.
Perhaps dared may have been better rendered as ventured. Seemingly the apostles no longer needed any reassurance that this was indeed the risen Christ, as by this time they were confident that it was Him.
13 [A and the MT insert “Then”; the text follows א, B, C, D, and W] Yahshua comes and takes the bread and gives [D has “giving thanks gave”] it to them, and likewise the fish. 14 This [א has “Now this”] is already the third time Yahshua [W has “He”] appeared to the [D and the MT have “His”] students, having risen from the dead.
Evidently John could only offer a testimony from his own perspective, so He was not counting peripheral events, such as the appearance of Christ to Mary Magdalene and the women who were with her at the garden tomb, or the experience of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus as it is recorded in Luke. John must have known about that also, as those two disciples, Cleopas and the other who remained unnamed, returned to Jerusalem and reported their experience to the eleven just as Christ had for the first time appeared to them all in the locked room, as it is reported in Luke chapter 24. So as we have mentioned, according to John, Christ had appeared to His disciples twice in Jerusalem before this appearance in Galilee, but that does not discount other appearances which Christ had made to others.
Now John focuses on what had transpired at this breakfast between Yahshua and Simon Peter. We have remarked several times throughout our commentary that Peter had a very stubborn nature, and often he had to be told or he had to experience something several times in order for him to comprehend it. So when Peter proclaimed that he would die for Christ, Christ told him that he would actually deny Him three times before the cock would crow that coming morning. Several years later, as it is described in Acts chapter 10, Peter would have to see the vision of the sheet come down from heaven three times before he could begin to understand the accompanying message. But here Christ illustrates this aspect of Peter’s character once again, even in spite of the fact that Peter himself becomes annoyed when Christ tells him a third time to feed His sheep.
15 Therefore when they had breakfast Yahshua says to Simon Petros: “Simon son of Iohannes, do you love Me more than these?” He says to Him: “Yes Prince, You know that I love You.” He says to him: “Feed My lambs.”
The King James Version has “So when they had dined”, however it is only morning, and the Greek verb, ἀριστάω, while it was used generally, had originally referred to the eating of the morning meal. Originally the noun ἄριστον described the first food eaten in the morning, or before work, and δεῖπνον described the more formal dinner eaten in the evening.
Three times here, and only here, we also see that the name of Simon Peter’s father was John, or in Greek, Ἰωάννης, the same name as our apostle John. But the words “son of” are only implied in the genitive case of the name for John, which was conventional in Koine Greek. The Codex Alexandrinus (A) and the Majority Text have Ἰωνᾶς, or Jonas, on each occasion, however our text follows the Codices Sinaiticus (א), Vaticanus (B), Ephraemi Syri (C), Bezae (D) and Washingtonensis (W), which all consistently have John, except that the Sinaiticus wants the phrase “son of John” here in verse 15. This portion of the final chapter of John’s gospel has not come down to us in the surviving papyri fragments.
16 Again [D wants “Again”] He [D has “The Lord”, or “The Prince”] says to him a second time [א wants “a second time”]: “Simon son of Iohannes, do you love Me?” He says to Him: “Yes Prince, You know that I love You!” He says to him: “Tend to My sheep.”
Twice in the King James Version in these passages we see the phrase “Feed My sheep”, while first, in verse 15, it is “Feed my lambs”. However in the Christogenea New Testament, on each of three occasions the expression is slightly different. That is because in the original Greek, John actually recorded the statement three different ways. In verse 15 it is βόσκε τὰ ἀρνία μου. Then in verse 16 it is ποίμαινε τὰ πρόβατά μου. Finally, in verse 17 it is βόσκε τὰ πρόβατά μου.
The first noun in these phrases, ἀρνίον, means a little lamb. The second noun, πρόβατον was used in the plural to describe any variety of cattle, sheep being implied by the context here. The Codices Ephraemi Syri (C) and Bezae (D) have πρόβατον in all three places. In verse 16, the Codices Vaticanus (B) and Ephraemi Syri (C) have a diminutive form, προβάτια, and in verse 17 both they and the Codex Alexandrinus (A) have that form. The verb βόσκω, used twice, generally means to feed. But the verb ποιμαίνω, used in the second of these three admonitions, more precisely means to tend a flock of sheep, to act as a shepherd. So we see the third of these admonitions:
17 He says to him a third time: “Simon son of Iohannes, do you love Me?” Petros was grieved that He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?”, and says [B, C and the MT have “said”] to Him: “Prince, You know all things! You know that I love You!” Yahshua says to him: “Feed My sheep!
Where we have grieved the verb is λυπέω, and it had a wide variety of such uses. In the active sense, Liddell and Scott define the word to mean “to give pain to, to pain, distress, grieve, vex, annoy”, so we may have written here that “Peter was annoyed” or “Peter was vexed”.
The concept of feeding the sheep with the gospel of Christ, which is what Christ had told Peter he would do, is not new with the advent of Christ. In Isaiah chapter 40 we see a prophecy which was fulfilled in John the Baptist, where it says “3 The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Then the voice is portrayed as announcing things to the children of Israel, and among them we read: “9 O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! [This being a prophecy of John the Baptist, he declared Christ as God when he described Him as the bridegroom, so Christ must be Yahweh God in the flesh.] 10 Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. 11 He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.”
In Ezekiel chapter 34, long after the children of Israel and most of Judah were deported into Assyrian captivity, we read, in part: “1 And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, 2 Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?” Then after recounting how the rulers of the ancient kingdom, who were the shepherds, had abused their position and fed themselves off the sheep, it says: “5 And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered. 6 My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them. 7 Therefore, ye shepherds, hear the word of the LORD; 8 As I live, saith the Lord GOD, surely because my flock became a prey, and my flock became meat to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock; 9 Therefore, O ye shepherds, hear the word of the LORD; 10 Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock; neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more; for I will deliver my flock from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them.” The administration of the kings and the Levites did end, so they could oppress the flock no more. Surely passages such as this one also led the apostles to correctly conclude that Yahshua Christ was indeed Yahweh God incarnate come to gather His sheep and feed His flock, as Christ also attested that He would do.
So where Ezekiel continues, Yahweh professes the purpose of Christ which was to continue in His apostles: “11 For thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. 13 And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14 I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel. 15 I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord GOD. 16 I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment. 17 And as for you, O my flock, thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I judge between cattle and cattle, between the rams and the he goats.”
If this was the announced purpose of God, then this is also the purpose of the ministry of Christ, the same Yahweh God incarnate, to regather the scattered children of Israel who were the sheep that were driven away. While the Babylonians and Assyrians were the vehicles by which they were finally driven away, the rulers themselves shouldered the blame, and Yahweh declared that He Himself would save them: “21 Because ye have thrust with side and with shoulder, and pushed all the diseased with your horns, till ye have scattered them abroad; 22 Therefore will I save my flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between cattle and cattle. 23 And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. 24 And I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them; I the LORD have spoken it.” Yahweh is both God and Messiah, as David is a type for Christ, who is also both David’s Son and David’s Master, as Christ Himself also professed, and that understanding is the only means by which to resolve the seeming enigma. The purpose of John’s gospel, in part, was to declare that very truth which we read in the exclamation of Thomas, who saw the risen Christ and declared Him to be both Lord and God.
In Jeremiah chapter 30 we read of the punishment of the children of Israel and a promise of destruction for all other nations, where the Word of Yahweh says: “11 For I am with thee, saith the LORD, to save thee: though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee: but I will correct thee in measure, and will not leave thee altogether unpunished.” Then as that judgment against the nations is elaborated on to the end of that chapter, we read in chapter 31: “1 At the same time, saith the LORD, will I be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people. 2 Thus saith the LORD, The people which were left of the sword found grace in the wilderness; even Israel, when I went to cause him to rest.” This period of rest followed the Assyrian captivity of the 8th century BC, into which Israel and most of Judah had already been taken.
Then further on in Jeremiah 31 we read: “6 For there shall be a day, that the watchmen upon the mount Ephraim shall cry, Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion unto the LORD our God. 7 For thus saith the LORD; Sing with gladness for Jacob, and shout among the chief of the nations: publish ye, praise ye, and say, O LORD, save thy people, the remnant of Israel. 8 Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the coasts of the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her that travaileth with child together: a great company shall return thither. 9 They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble: for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn. 10 Hear the word of the LORD, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, He that scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd doth his flock. 11 For the LORD hath redeemed Jacob, and ransomed him from the hand of him that was stronger than he.”
So we see the purpose of the Gospel as it is announced in the opening chapter of Luke: “71 That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; 72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; 73 The oath which he sware to our father Abraham”. In Revelation chapter 12, the people who found grace in the wilderness are represented as a woman with twelve stars, one each for the twelve tribes of Israel. There we read, in part: “6 And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.” The 1,260 days evidently represents half of the seven Biblical times for which the children of Israel were to be punished for their sins, as it is stated in Leviticus and indicated also in Daniel, a day in prophecy representing a year. During this time, all of the so-called lost sheep were fed with the gospel of Christ, so they who would feed her are represented by the apostles of Christ and their successors.
Returning to Jeremiah, later in that same chapter, which is chapter 31, is the promise of the new covenant to be made with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, and they are the sheep for which Yahshua had come, the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” whom Yahshua wants Peter to feed. There are no others included in this covenant, and as Paul wrote in Galatians chapter 3, no man can add to it for himself.
That is the feeding of the sheep who had wandered over all the mountains, but mostly into Europe and Central Asia. They are the sheep to which Yahshua was referring here in this final chapter of John. As a consequence of this understanding and the words of the prophets, Peter wrote his epistles to a particular elect race. James wrote his single epistle to those same twelve tribes scattered abroad. Paul of Tarsus professed that “I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers: Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come”, in Acts chapter 26. This was their message, and it was their only message, as the nations to which Paul had brought the gospel were the same nations descended from those ancient Israelites, as all of his epistles prove in one way or another.
Now Yahshua once again describes Peter’s stubborn nature, and perhaps Peter himself stands as a type for all Israel:
18 Truly, truly I say to you, when you were young, you girt yourself and walked about wherever you wished. But when you should grow old, you shall extend your hand, and another [א, D and W have ‘others’; the text follws A, B, C and the MT] shall gird and bring you where [א has ‘and shall do to you whatever’; D and W have ‘and carry you off where’; the text follows A, B, C and the MT] you do not wish.”
When Peter was young he did what he wanted, but the day would come when he would be led to do something which he would not want, and evidently others would take him by compulsion. So John interpreted this to indicate how Peter would die:
19 Now He said this indicating with what sort of death he would honor Yahweh. And upon saying this He says to him: “Follow Me.”
Earlier in His ministry Christ had said, as it is recorded in Luke chapter 9, “23… If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” But rather than deny himself, Peter had instead denied Christ, and here Christ is telling him that in the end he will go reluctantly. So now He was asking Peter to once again do that same thing, as if Peter required the additional admonishment. It seems that Peter remained stubborn, as Paul records in Galatians chapter 2 that he had to admonish Peter because he was hypocritically yielding to certain Judaizers. Later, in his second epistle, Peter admitted that while Paul’s epistles were difficult to understand, those who perverted the meaning of them did so at the risk of their own destruction. Today that would describe every single denominational church, including the Orthodox and Roman Catholic.
There are several early Christian accounts, beginning from the 2nd century, which place Peter in Rome towards the end of his life, although not while Paul was yet living there, and later accounts attest that Peter was also crucified in Rome. None of them are contemporary to the time of the apostles, and the early Christian writers do not entirely confirm the later so-called Church tradition, of which I am quite skeptical. Many of the statements found in the writings of the Church Fathers are sheer Roman Catholic propaganda and are actually antithetical to the Christianity of the apostles which is evidenced in the Scriptures. When Peter wrote his epistles, they were addressed to Christian assemblies in Anatolia which Paul had founded, they were probably written after Paul’s death since they testify of Paul’s epistles, and Peter had written them both from Babylon in an apparently short space of time. It is apparent that Paul was executed in 62 AD, so if Peter did go to Rome, which some evidence suggests, he must have went after that time. However some writers claim he was in Rome preaching with Paul, something which the evidence throughout the Book of Acts and the epistles of both Peter and Paul does not support.
Now Peter evidently does not like what he has heard from Yahshua, he evidently understood what Christ had implied, and he points a finger at John:
20 Turning [א, D and the MT have “Then turning”; the text follows A, B, C and W] Petros sees the student whom Yahshua loved following [א and W want “following”; they may not have been walking during the conversation as the verb ἀκολουθέω was also used to describe the act of following along by listening to someone, according to Liddell & Scott “to follow the thread of a discourse”], he who had also reclined upon His breast at the dinner and said “Prince, who is he betraying You?”
John himself was the disciple whom Peter had encouraged to inquire of Yahshua at their last Passover dinner together, the evening prior to His arrest. Here once again John purposely avoided referring to himself by name, as he has done throughout his Gospel. However in verse 24 John confesses that these were all references to himself.
21 Therefore [A, W and the MT want “Therefore”; the text follows א , B, C and D] Petros seeing him says [א and W have “said”] to Yahshua: “Prince, but what about this man?” 22 Yahshua says to him: “If I wish him to abide [D inserts “thus”] until I come, what is it to you? You follow Me.”
For this same reason, in the parable of the vineyard workers which is presented in Mark chapter 3, those workers who showed up early in the day and who agreed to work for a penny had no legitimate complaint when the workers who showed up in the last hour were nevertheless paid a penny. If one Christian seems to be rewarded more than another, that is the decision of God, the Master of the vineyard, and it should not be questioned by men.
Some churches to this day, namely the cult known as the so-called Church of Latter-Day Saints, or Mormons, claim that this meant that John would not die, even though in the very next verse John himself sought to refute the interpretation:
23 Therefore this word went out to the brethren, that [D has “and they supposed”] that student would not die. But [A, D and the MT have “Yet”; the text follows א, B, C and W] Yahshua had not said to him that he would not [D has “that you shall not”] die, but “If I wish him to abide until I come, what is it to you?”
The Codex Sinaiticus (א) has the end of the verse to read “… but ‘I would wish him to abide until I come.’” The Codex Bezae (D) has “… but ‘I would wish him to abide until I come to you.’” The text follows the Codices Alexandrinus (A), Vaticanus (B), Ephraemi Syri (C), Washingtonensis (W) and the Majority Text.
In the opening presentation of this commentary On the Gospel of John, Part 1: The Word Made Flesh, presented here nearly two years ago, May 18th, 2018, we cited many of the early Christian writers in order to show that John wrote his gospel, as well as his surviving epistles and the Revelation, while he was in Ephesus very late in his life. Doing that, we said in part:
On another note, it is recorded in all three of the Synoptic Gospels that Christ had said, as we read from Matthew chapter 16, “28 Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” Here we must consider what he may have meant where he said “not taste of death”. The closing verses of John chapter 8 reveal that Christ must have been referring to a spiritual death, and not merely the death of the physical body, as he also said in the exchange with His adversaries there that “If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.” So when they challenged him on the basis of the status and death of Abraham, He replied that “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad,” implying that although Abraham was dead in body, he was certainly alive in the spirit. So elsewhere He attested that Yahweh is not the God of the dead, but of the living. Perhaps those who do not taste death merely pass into the spirit without experiencing their own death, as Christ in the Gospel described death as an entering into life. (Matthew 18:8-9, Mark 9:43-46)
Yet even this comment by Christ, where He said “If I wish him to abide until I come, what is it to you?”, seems not to have been a prophesy or a statement of purpose concerning John. Rather, it is only a rhetorical challenge to Peter, whereby Christ is saying that John’s fate, which was apparently less horrifying than what Peter would ultimately have to face, should be none of Peter’s concern. Peter wouild have his own path and his own trials.
The same early accounts of the so-called Church Fathers state that John had remained in Ephesus until the days of Trajan, who became Roman emperor around 98 AD. There is to this day a basilica dedicated to John which stands in Ephesus, which was built in the 6th century by the emperor Justinian over what was believed to be the site of his burial. So in any event, early Christians did not believe this passage to mean that John would not die a physical death, as he himself had stated here.
However once it is understood that John did not die until at least 98 AD, perhaps this passage, along with the entire Book of Revelation, also may serve as a refutation of the heresy of Preterism, the foolish belief that Christ somehow returned in 70 AD when Jerusalem was destroyed, when all the other prophecies of the day of wrath of Yahweh would have failed. Preterism is folly.
24 This is the student who is [B, C and W insert “also”] testifying concerning these things, and [א, A, C, W and the MT want “and”; the text follows B and C] who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.
John himself is making this assertion, “and we know that his testimony is true”, however he has never before written of himself alone in the 3rd person, so evidently he may actually be meaning to refer to others who were in Ephesus with him when he wrote these things, that they knew the truth of these matters along with him.
25 Now there are also many other things Yahshua had done, which if each one were written, I suppose that Society itself would not have space for the books which would be written.
The Codex Sinaiticus (א) wants the whole of verse 25, where I may be inclined to believe it was a later addition. However all of the other manuscripts, including the equally ancient Codex Vaticanus (B) and many manuscripts in other languages, such as Syriac and Latin, do contain the passage, so I must retain it as well. Only the Majority Text adds the word which the King James Version transliterates, as “Amen”.
In chapter 20 of this gospel John had said that “30… many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book”, and while some of them are found in the other gospel accounts, surely there must have been many things which are not.
Now, as John finished his gospel professing to have many things to say, but didn’t, we shall conclude our commentary On the Gospel of John in that same manner. There is always much more that we could write in relation to all of the things which John has taught us in his gospel, but we shall leave off here.
This is part 51 and the final presentation in this series, concluding our commentary on the gospel of John. We hope to begin a commentary on the epistles of John in the near future.